Recently, LifeHacker featured the Productive Macs Bundle. This bundle promises eight great apps for a low price. I figured I’d test all eight for VoiceOver compatibility. If even a few worked it would make it worth the price. At the end, I found a split right down the middle. Four worked and four didn’t. I still consider it a worthwhile investment.
I will cover them in order. I remain open to corrections. I also hope the developers with incompatible programs will consider improving their accessibility. Here we go!
Textexpander:A lot of people love this program. As the name suggests, it expands short text strings into long ones. This helps save time when filling out forms, for example. Have your email and postal addresses as strings. It also has some substitutions for the time and date, and allows for filling in forms. I found this program completely accessible. Very nice.
Pathfinder: This finder replacement offers some cool sounding features. The unix utilities sounded good. It also has Command-X support to “cut” files. Why Finder doesn’t have this continues to elude me. Unfortunately, I had some real problems with this app. First, I tried it in list view mode. It wouldn’t read filenames, just blank. I switched it to column view which I often prefer, and could hear the filenames. Awesome I thought. Then I tried using it to delete a file from my Downloads folder. When I say delete here, I mean move it to the trash. I used Command-Delete as in Finder. Imagine my shock when my entire Downloads folder disappeared. Poof! Instead of removing the one file, it removed the whole folder. I freaked out, but fortunately Command-Z worked to undo the action. I tempted fate and tried a few variations, but to no avail. Too bad! I hope they fix this program. Given the company’s name of Cocoatech I hope they will.
Socialite: I so wanted this program to work. I really really really did. Facebook has become unusable, and I’d love having my Twitter and Facebook and all that crap all in one place. Alas, I just couldn’t get it working. Close, but no cigar! Entering my account info had a few wrinkles, the PIN for Twitter authorization for instance. I managed to get it though, but sadly none of my tweets would read. I just saw a vertical scroll bar with blank text. Nothing nothing nothing. So sad. I really hope they improve this one, as the blind would really find it valuable.
HoudahSpot:Perfect. When I first got my Mac, I disregarded the Spotlight search feature, figuring it worked about as well as the Windows search, not very and extremely slowly in other words. What a mistake! Spotlight rules! This program takes the Spotlight and offers more specific searching. It does this through easily navigable tables in scroll areas. It works well with VoiceOver. Quite cool.
Today: Oh boy. This program shows you a simplified view of your iCal events. I felt all ready to give this one my thumbs up, until I actually tried looking at an event. Firstly it has unlabeled buttons, which I tried to divine and label. In the course of this I chanced to pick a day with a scheduled event. Instead of seeing something meaningful, I saw an internal representation of the event, a serialized data structure in programming terms. This makes it unusable. Damn.
Blast:Oh dear, another one I would have enjoyed. Blast lets you quickly access recently accessed files from your menu bar. Unfortunately, I could not find where exactly this appeared. I looked in all the menu bars I could think of, but couldn’t find it. It would also bring up a window over top of an application, which would play havoc with VoiceOver. Perhaps I just didn’t look in the right place, or perhaps it just doesn’t work with VoiceOver, I don’t know. Perhaps someone can correct me on this one.
Keyboard Maestro: This program offers some of the same functionality as Textexpander and more. Whereas Textexpander does simple string substitution, Keyboard Maestro lets you define events triggered by hot keys, strings, program events, the time of day, and probably some others I forgot. With increased power comes increased complexity. I found a few minor issues with this program, for instance it requires some routing and simulated mouse clicks, but I managed to add a few macros once I learned to work around these issues. Also, unlike Textexpander, it has an engine which always runs and you only run the program when you need to edit macros. This means one less running program to deal with. It could use a little improvement on the accessibility front, but not bad. I sense some interesting potential with this program. For example, when I launch iTunes, I want it to play this clip from a recent South Park episode: “By clicking Agree, you are acknowledging that Apple may sew your mouth to the butthole of another iTunes user.” Perhaps this awesome program will let me. It can adjust iTunes in macros.
Mail Act On: This plugin for Mail.app (the default mail program for the Mac which totally decimates Outlook Express) adds some wonderful rule-related functionality. It lets you define mail filtering rules triggered by a hot key. It also lets you define outbox rules, allowing sorting of sent messages. How thoughtful. This just plug into the preferences, and works perfectly. Nice job!
So in conclusion, do I recommend the Mac Productivity Bundle for VoiceOver users? I would say yes. Four programs work, four don’t. Of the four that work, two do similar things. Average users will probably prefer Textexpander, and power users who don’t mind dealing with some little quirks will go for Keyboard Maestro. HoudahSpot offers some nice file tweaks, and Mail Act-On does the same for Mail. If this sounds good to you then go for it, but hurry, as the deal ends soon. You still end up saving money. I wanted to get this article out in time. I hope these reviews of the individual programs will come in handy even after this deal ends. Macs rule!
By the way, sighted users will not have these restrictions, and should feel free to try all the programs. They will most definitely find the bundle worth it.